Director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents, Trumbo) isn’t one of those directors who claims he doesn’t read the reviews. Yes, he reads them and, yes, it’s the negative reviews that he remembers the most. Bombshell — which details Megyn Kelly (played Charlize Theron, who also produced the film) and Gretchen Carlson’s (Nicole Kidman) time at Fox News and their attempt to expose sexual harassment perpetrated by Roger Ailes (John Lithgow); and details the fallout Kelly went through after daring to confront our current president about how he treats women — is garnering mostly positive reviews. But, of the negative reviews, Roach is having a hard time wrapping his head around the idea that somehow this story means less because it happened to Kelly, who, in her own right, is a controversial figure. Ahead, Roach explains.
But Roach knew this would be a lightning rod of a movie. He’s experienced it before when he made Game Change, detailing Sarah Palin’s role in the 2008 election. Roach does feel a responsibility to be as fair as possible to these subjects, but, as Roach knows, an attempt to be fair when politics are involved often winds up making both sides of the political spectrum unhappy.
This is a movie with at least four lightening rods that you knew you had to touch. Did you think about that before doing it?
No, I didn’t hesitate that much. You always think hard about taking these kinds of projects on because you know it’s going to controversial and I care very much about the issues. I would feel an obligation to get it right. It needs to be authentic, it needs to be engaging. And so yeah, you go through that. But I guess because I’ve done a few of these kinds of movies now, where there’s a lot at stake, and how it’s going to be told just in the storytelling itself, that it’s got to be effective.
I want it to be useful, actually. I was thinking about this the other day, there’s something very important to me that I have to feel like I’m working on something that somehow that would be useful one way or another.
Megyn Kelly is an interesting figure…
Audience wise, there’s not a huge Venn diagram of people who dislike Fox News but love her. So how do you wrestle with knowing that a lot of people watching this are coming in with preconceived opinions of the main character?
I mean, it’s one of the things you could tell that, partly from that Sarah Palin movie, is to take the audience on a journey that gets them past their preconceptions and prejudices and just somehow surprises them. Those surprises that get past what the media has portrayed, or how the person might portray themselves even. Because most of us are not reliable narrators of our own stories. So I just thought there was an opportunity to expand the perception. Expand a sense of empathy for people you wouldn’t otherwise think you had empathy for. When I did the Sarah Palin movie, we obviously got a little criticism on the right, but we’ve got some on the left for humanizing her too much in a certain way. But other people who were surprised that we did that appreciated it and felt like they were getting just a new perspective on someone that they didn’t understand before that. And I hope to do that here.
For people on the left — I’m saying this for myself, too — to remind ourselves that this happened in a very unlikely place, but it’s not an unusual predicament women find themselves in. And if you are willing to get past any preconceptions you have about the people involved you might find things you have in common with them, the concerns you have in common with them. And men too, that we might gain some perspective, some empathy for a situation that you might not have thought you would have.
You mentioned criticism from the right and left on the Sarah Palin movie, but I’ve seen that here, too. Of course, the right isn’t happy because it’s Fox News. But I’ve seen reviews upset that you don’t go after Fox News enough.
It’s interesting, I’ve seen some of the reactions in the press to the film recently. I mean, there have been incredibly positive reactions, too. But I’m obviously, like any storyteller, only interested in the negative ones. To understand how did I not get this across, what we were going for or whatever? I’m just really curious how the story is received. And it is… what’s the right word? It is surprising, and maybe a little even disappointing that some of the criticism is… I mean, I can take anything about this if it came out of the storytelling. Some of the criticism is about why should we care about these women because they’re Fox women. And that is definitely tough to read that because that’s part of the point of the film — to say this is a nonpartisan issue. It seems almost like victim-blaming to say, “Oh, these women were sort of smiling their way through this process.” Well, I don’t think so.
I mean, interviewing the women we talked to, there was a lot of incredible trauma involved and a lot of just struggling with what to do and how to cope with these jerk men that they were up against. And so, I don’t know. I just wanted the film to be about this common problem that we all face. For some people, at least, we didn’t take them far enough past that preconception that they’re still thinking, “Oh, this story doesn’t matter as much because it’s these women in this place.” And it’s also, this was a year before the real tipping point for the Me Too movement, when the Harvey Weinstein news broke and to just face what all these women were up against.
But I think it is human nature to look at someone like Megan Kelly and think of, I don’t know, her going on a rant that Santa Claus has to be white, or whatever other ridiculous or horrible thing she said. But that doesn’t also take away from that she experienced sexual harassment…
Or that she stood up to it. Yeah.
And stood up to Trump. And so both things can be true, that she was harassed, verbally attacked by the president, and has said some stupid things. But one doesn’t take away from the other part.
Absolutely. And I just think, I mean, you said it better than I put that. That’s a really good comment I think. So, I very much hoped that it would be a story that made you ask yourself, what would I do in that situation? And I think because of how we start this, when you see what she was up against for that whole year, it’s still, for a lot of people, compelling to ask oneself that question. And especially when you see how powerful Roger Ailes was. How capable his whole army of supporters and loyal soldiers would attack anybody who dared speak up against him. Same with Trump, obviously. And there is a deliberate overlap between those two men in this stories that that is meant to show how difficult this predicament was for all the women who dared step forward, again, a year before the Harvey Weinstein news broke. So, yeah, I hope that where they worked doesn’t disqualify their story. Because it’s a story that happens all over our culture and in industries worldwide, in McDonald’s, and in hotels, in the schools and in Hollywood for sure. And then the news media.
I thought Kate McKinnon’s character was interesting. Where did that come from? Because I know people like that. Just people who work in media who find themselves at Fox News because they needed a job.
There’s two things in there. One, there’s Shep Smith who worked there for years. We actually refer to Roger’s attitude about Shep and I won’t ruin that line. There’s a really interesting line Megyn gives to her husband about Roger’s surprising tolerance of certain situations in certain situations for people that you wouldn’t expect to be working at Fox. But there’s a whole other kind of person who works at Fox who is either a closeted liberal, including closeted gay people, at least closeted from the Fox people may not know. Fox News has to recruit, especially for those junior positions, local people. They don’t go to red states to find a PA or a video editor. Those are people who are from New York. I am sure you know there’s not a lot of conservative people in New York, percentage wise. They often recruit young people. Yeah.
Right. I know a few people like that.
Well, that’s why I love that riff that Kate McKinnon goes off on, part of which was her just improvising about. Why do you work at Fox? She goes, “I think I just prefer working in a toxic environment.” And then she says I tried to get work everywhere else and I couldn’t, so I got a job at Fox and now when I applied everywhere else they say we won’t hire you because you work at Fox. So it was such a great riff, that whole section. And Margo Robbie kept right up with it. And Margo’s a great improvisor. I don’t know if you would expect that. I mean we should, but she’s not a comedian like Kate. And, boy, they are amazing together. I think that there is some kind of a story that could be told with just focusing on them, closeted people working at Fox News.
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